These are some of the rock records that you might want to consider adding to your collection.
Here is the list alphabetically by artist.
We have been touting McCartney’s first solo album for more than a decade. Ever read a word about it in an audiophile context elsewhere? Of course you haven’t! The audiophile world doesn’t know and doesn’t care about great albums like this one, but we at Better Records LIVE for albums with sound and music of this caliber. It’s a permanent resident of our Top 100 List for a reason: no other solo album by a Beatle can touch it.
As for surface issues, we wish we could find them quiet, but that is simply not an option, especially considering how dynamic the recording is. We’ve used every trick in the book to try to get copies of this album to play Mint Minus, but it’s not usually in the cards. Maybe I’m Amazed, in particular, seems to be noisy on nine copies out of every ten. If you’re looking for a copy without any surface noise, you’re probably better off tracking down the DCC Gold CD, which is actually quite good.
But no CD is ever going to sound like our record, not now, not ever. This is where I simply can’t understand how the typical audiophile can make the tradeoff for flat, average sound with quiet vinyl — the sound of these Heavy Vinyl reissues that have sprouted up all over the place, each one worse than the last — and the wonderful, but slightly noisy, sound to be found on the best originals.
Of course the obvious answer is that it is simply too much work to find enough original copies to clean and play in order to come across that needle in a haystack: the Hot Stamper pressing.
The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.
Always A Struggle
It’s practically impossible to find clean copies of this album that sound good. We went through a big pile of our best copies this week and eventually found the sound (and surfaces) we were looking for. I can’t tell you how many copies we had to toss because they were noisy, had weak sonics, or both.
Looking For The McCartney Magic? Look No Further
In our experience, the real McCartney Magic is only found on the best domestic Apple pressings. We’ve never heard an import that did much for us, and the later CBS issues are hardly worth the vinyl they’re pressed on.
Then again, many of the domestic Apples are garbage too. You’ve got to clean and play a whole lotta copies to find a copy that sounds like this one.
This album, like Unplugged and Band on the Run (and not a whole lot else) is SUPERB from start to finish. At the end of side two you want MORE. I wish I could say that about the rest of his discography.
The sound of the sixties will fill your room like never before — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of depth. You would be very hard pressed to find a pop rock recording from 1967 that sounds as good as a Hot Stamper Insight Out. (Sgt. Pepper comes to mind, but what else?) Can you imagine the Mamas and the Papas or The Jefferson Airplane with this kind of rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct sound quality?
The midrange is pure Tubey Magic! If you have the kind of system that brings out that quality in a recording, you will go wild over this one. In fact it’s so good, it made me appreciate some of the other songs on the album which I had previously dismissed as filler. When you hear them sound this good, you can actually enjoy them.
Hal, Joe and Bones
The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team, who create the driving force behind these songs. Osborne’s web site puts Windy front and center as the first track demonstrating what a top rhythm section can do for a pop song. This whole album can be enjoyed simply for the great drum and bass work, not to mention the sound that both of those instruments are given by the pop recording master Bones Howe.
He produced and engineered the show here; Bones is a man who knew his way around a studio as well as practically anybody in the ’60s. He’s the one responsible for all the tubey magic of the recording. That’s his sound. Those of you who appreciate that sound will find much to like here.
Never My Love is clearly the best sounding track on the album. Those of you with better front ends will be astonished at the quality of the sound. Windy also sounds excellent, but I hear some sub-generation harmonic distortion, probably caused by bouncing down some of the tracks to make room for others.
This is the era of the four track machine, and when four of the tracks are used up they are bounced down to one track, making available three new tracks. Some of the albums from this era — the Mamas and the Papas come to mind — have multiple bounces, three and four deep, which accounts for the distortion that you hear all through their recordings. The two-track finished master might have upwards of five tape generations or more on some instruments or vocal parts.
We Do The Work So You Don’t Have To
Let’s face it: if you find this record in a record store it’s going to be $10 or less, which is what we paid for most of the copies here. But they’re usually noisy and dull sounding. You really have to work at it to find a copy that sounds like this one. Or, better yet, pay us to do that work for you by just buying this one.
Don’t be put off by the title; these are not some sleepy old-fashioned waltzes. This is swingin’ West Coast jazz at its best. Of course, the arrangements are done in waltz time, but that doesn’t keep them from swingin’.
And the amazingly good sound? Credit Bones Howe, a man who knows Tubey Magic like practically no one else in the world. The Association, The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, and even Tom Waits — all their brilliant recordings are the result of Bones Howe’s estimable talents as producer and engineer.
Original Vs. Reissue
The original Reprise pressing, whether in mono or stereo, has never sounded very good to us. The mono is quite a bit worse than the stereo – no surprise there – but both must be considered poor reflections of the master tape.
We sold one many years ago, describing it this way: “Beautiful Original with decent sound — rich, smooth and sweet.”
Which it was, but from us that’s little more than damning it with faint praise. The Discovery pressing is so much bigger, clearer and livelier it’s almost hard to imagine it and the 1962 Reprise original were both made from the same tape. Something sure went wrong the first time around — I think it’s safe to say at least that much.
Original equals Better? Not for those of us who play records rather than just collect them. Leave the originals for the Jazz Guys. The Hot Stamper reissues are for us Music Loving Audiophiles.
We have a section specifically devoted to our favorite pastime here at Better Records, a little something we like to call Debunking The Pseudo-Audiophile LP. The Audiophile’s Choice — the record that will do the best job of communicating the music through its superior sound quality — is almost never going to be the one marketed to him as an Audiophile Pressing. If you find this in any way hard to believe, we encourage you to read on.
This section contains ratings and reviews of some of the Audiophile records that have come our way over the years. The most recent reviews are at the top. Records that have been given poor grades can also be found in our Hall of Shame, in the company of other audiophile pressings we found wanting.
Man, this record has more TUBEY MAGIC than any Sinatra record I can remember playing.
Find me a Sinatra CD, any Sinatra CD, that sounds like this and I will eat it.
If you want to know what the best sounding Sinatra records sound like, this is your chance. Folks, in my opinion it simply does not get any better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of Strangers In The Night.
These originals are the only way to go for ’60s Sinatra, but finding them in good shape on quiet vinyl is no picnic and only a few of them actually sound the way we want them to. It’s a real treat to be in the presence of the Chairman Of The Board, in his prime, working his magic — but only an exceptional copy like this one has the power to put him right in the room with you.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
The Tubey Magic on this copy has to be heard to be believed! I cannot recall hearing a richer, smoother, tubier Frank Sinatra album in all my born days.
Weighty brass is key to the sound. Any leanness or thinness in the brass is instantly heard as a Sinatra without the full weight and richness to his voice. This is the sound of most of the reissues, the main reason we stopped buying them years ago. Having played so many amazing original stereo pressings for this shootout we don’t think that will change anytime soon either. There simply is no substitute.
Full, Rich, Breathy, Present vocals are obviously critically important as well. This copy delivers some of the best we heard.
On this copy the orchestra and band are putting out plenty of low end, reaching down well into whomp land. It’s a thrill to hear to hear that sound on these swinging arrangements coming out of my speakers.
And of course the copies that rich and tubey but also big, clear and open did the best in our shootout.
We Love the Music Too
The famous title track is from a different session and does not sound as good as the rest of the album, so skip right to Summer Wind — now that’s Sinatra at his nice and easy best, with sound to match.
Frank Sinatra – vocals
Nelson Riddle – arranger, conductor
Glen Campbell – guitar
Leon Russell – piano
Arranger: Ernie Freeman (Track 1)
The Nelson Riddle Orchestra
Lee Herschberg, Engineer Extraordinaire
One of the top guys at Warners and Reprise, Lee engineered this album as well as a great many others for Sinatra. You’ll find Herschberg’s name in the credits of many of the best albums by Ry Cooder, The Doobie Brothers and Gordon Lightfoot, titles we know to have excellent sound on the best copies — not to mention an album most audiophiles know all too well, Rickie Lee Jones’ debut. His pop and rock engineering credits run for pages.
The most amazing jazz piano trio recording we know of is on the list of his credits as well: The Three (Shelly Manne, Ray Brown and Joe Sample), as well as most of the other Direct to Disc recordings released on Eastwind.
The album that gets my vote for Herschberg’s Pop Engineering Masterpiece would have to be Michael McDonald’s If That’s What It Takes. On the best copies the sound is out of this world.
Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.
Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.
But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively…
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Including this amazing Bolero, the best copy we’ve ever heard!
Side two sounded so much better than any copy I have ever heard that I was sorely tempted to give it our coveted Four Plus grade, for the kind of sound that breaks all the rules. Cooler heads have since prevailed, but that doesn’t detract in the least from side two of this remarkable pressing, which has by far the best sound for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice I have yet to hear.
We are rarely able to find a quality recording or performance of Bolero or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so this pressing comes as a welcome addition to the classical offerings on the site.
The sound is clear, with wonderful depth to the stage. As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande in Victoria Hall are as big and rich as any you may have ever heard. These recordings may just be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made.
Tubey and clear, with both the snare and the flute coming from so far back in the hall! OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power.
Turn it up and it really comes to life like LIVE MUSIC. It’s big, wide and believable. We loved it!
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas)
ZERO compression. ZERO distortion when loud. Which means it has ZERO compressor distortion, something not five out of a hundred Golden Age recordings can claim. Nice extended top too.
There is depth and richness to beat the band, as well as clarity and tonal correctness that let you forget the recording and just enjoy the music. This piece is not quite as transparent as the Ravel, but still has earned every one of its Three Pluses.
The timbre of the brass is right on the money. As we have noted before, the brass of the Suisse Romande is some of the best to have ever been committed to analog tape.
Again, this side had OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power the likes of which we have never heard.
La Valse (Ravel)
Boasting some of the best sound of the three works we played on this copy. Again, with that wonderously huge hall adding a sense of space that will allow your speakers to disappear. The performers are not too close, which is very much in keeping with live music.
In his tribute to Ravel after the composer’s death in 1937, Paul Landormy described the work as follows:
“….the most unexpected of the compositions of Ravel, revealing to us heretofore unexpected depths of Romanticism, power, vigor, and rapture in this musician whose expression is usually limited to the manifestations of an essentially classical genius.”
Production and Engineering
Michael Brenner was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from February of 1963 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren’t hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.
We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings — originals and reissues — in the hopes that something good would come our way.
Fast forward four years. It’s 2015. We drop the needle on a random pressing and finally — finally — hear a copy that rocks like we knew a ZZ Top album should. With that LP as a benchmark we got a shootout up and running and the result is the record you see here.
How did the WB remaster fare once we had some truly Hot Stamper pressings to play it against?
Not well. It’s tonally correct, with a real top and bottom, something that a substantial number of copies cannot claim to be.
But the sound is stuck behind the speakers, veiled, and sorely lacking in energy and excitement. The transparency is of course compromised on all these new reissues, and without transparency and resolution much of the audience participation on the first side is lost. I won’t say the new pressing is boring. Let’s just say it’s a lot more boring than it should be.
Check out our Heavy Vinyl Rock and Jazz Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.
NOTES FROM A RECENT HOT STAMPER
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, lacking presence and immediacy.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.
My notes for side one read:
Big hall! Transparent! Zero smear! Dynamic! Huge Bass! Realistic!
It that sounds like the kind of record you would like to play for yourself, here it is!
The Scythian Suite was also very good but it seems to get a bit congested (tape overload? compressor overload?) on the loudest parts. It does sound amazing in the quieter passages. It’s not distorted, just brash. It’s very dynamic, like side one.
This was obviously a record the previous owner did not care for. We acquired a copy of LSC 2449 in the same batch, but unfortunately that was a record the owner must have loved — it’s just plain worn out. (We kept it as a reference copy for a future shootout which, considering how rare the record is, may never come to pass.)
In the heyday of the ’90s when these records were all the rage this copy would have sold for at least $1000 and probably more. And the copy that sold for that would have been very unlikely to sound as good as this one, if only for the fact that cleaning technologies have advanced so much over the last ten years or so.